Steve Keating, used with permission
Source: Steve Keating, used with permission

The Transition from Manager to Leader

How does one effectively transition from operating as a manager to serving as a leader? To help answer this question, I had the immense honor to speak with an iconic leadership and sales development expert, Steve Keating, who is as humble as he is wise. Steve currently serves as a Senior Manager of Sales and Leadership Development for The Toro Company. With over 31 years of experience in sales and sales management, he has established a clear way to teach others the difference between leading and managing. I share some golden nuggets from our interview below.

A Promotion Doesn’t Make You a Leader

Steve cautions new leaders not to assume that a “title or position will make you a leader.” Rather, remember that the “promotion only gives you the opportunity to earn the right to lead,” Steve says. New leaders need to truly distinguish between what it means to manage and what it means to lead.

“Leadership is about people,” Steve says. Consider a task or activity. “If you are doing it for the sake of your business, that’s management. If it is for the sake of your people, that’s leadership.”

Steve further emphasizes the importance of developing a “culture of caring” within your team. “If you don’t care for people, you can’t lead them,” he explains. This emotional connection presents a win-win for both sides. After all, when you show your team members that you care about them, then they, in turn, commit to you emotionally.

It is this emotional connection that builds strength and unity within the team setting. Remember that loyalty swings both ways, so a leader should never think that she can command respect. Rather, she has to earn it.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for (and a need for) pure managers, who focus solely on task instead of people. But, for a person to truly take that leap from management to leadership, Steve insists that he must focus on and invest time in his people.

A Leadership Mindset

As a leader, “you’re not using people only to improve your lot in life or your position. You’re helping them to get better themselves,” Steve shares. This focus on another person’s success is huge. In fact, the best leaders take the greatest pride when their followers achieve more than they ever personally did.

When a Leader Has to Lead a Friend

One issue that many new leaders face is when they have to lead their peers or friends. It is not uncommon for someone to be working alongside individuals one day and then, in the blink of an eye, be in charge of them the next. When peers become subordinates, it can be quite sticky! This happened to Steve early in his career, and his boss gave him some matter of fact advice. “My boss said, ‘You can’t be friends with them anymore,’” Steve recalls.  After all, it is hard to lead someone who may expect special treatment or even feel jealous because you got the promotion instead of him.

Steve learned through experience, however, that “you can be friends, but it’s at a different level.” Plan out the way that you will have this difficult conversation with your colleague-turned-subordinate. Be compassionate and direct. New leaders have to set some ground rules. Steve suggests that you say something like, “It doesn’t mean that I’ve changed. It’s just that my role here has changed.”

What if you’re the One Who’s Jealous?

What if you are the person vying for the position that your friend ultimately got? Steve has some sage words for you, too! “Don’t set a goal to say, ‘I want my boss’ job.’” Rather, make it your goal to be the best candidate for that particular position. If you don’t get that role, “be brutally honest and look in the mirror. Take thirty days and really watch the person who got the promotion you believe that you should have had. Really be honest with yourself and see what skills that person has that you might be lacking,” Steve advises. Then, consider what steps you might take to “fill in those gaps.” Maybe you should refine a skill or take a workshop. Even consider working with a mentor. Or, maybe, you may step back and realize that the organization isn’t the right place for you.

Introspection is the key to personal growth. This is true in life and at work! Steve leads the way and inspires me to continue to grow as a leader. I hope that his words of wisdom did the same for you, as well! Thanks so much, Steve, for a fantastic interview!

Want to learn more about Steve Keating? Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and read his personal blog (

Want to learn more about handling difficult people in the workplace? Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. Read my book Working with Difficult People or visit

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